Monday, September 29, 2014

A "real" look at the school table

Homeschooling gifted children, especially if they're twice-exceptional, is always an interesting adventure - and one that rarely, if ever, looks like anything anyone else is doing in their homes. Even more striking is the contrast between our school table and a public school classroom. Come on in, pull up a chair in the living room, and I'll show you what I mean by the 'differences' and what it means for Mad Natter.

The day starts out much like any other. Mama up too late the night before planning things to do, getting ducks into rows, trying to pull enough willpower together to get one last load of washing in before bed. Mad Natter, bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7:30, his mother wondering how a pair of night owls have managed to create a morning lark, how is that even fair?  Everyone rolls out of bed, gets varying degrees of presentable, and we sit down in the living room. Mad Natter watches a StampyCat video while Mama tries to make sense of email, and higher level thinking pre-caffeine.

Once we're both up and moving and able to form coherent sentences, we hop on over to the school table. On this day, we've got math review, which is mercifully quiet.  I've mentioned before how Mad Natter abjectly hates review. Apparently, this does not apply to review done with rulers, crayons, and strange non-standard measuring objects. We fly through the review, and then move on to handwriting. We're practicing three capital letters today: G, H, and I. First, a fit is thrown over whether or not a capital G should take up two square inches of space on the paper. Once sorted and Gs are legible, we move on to Hs, which should be easy, but instead draws protest because he has to write five freehand H letters, instead of four plus the example. Given that he's not writing the twenty the line would support, and he needs extra work in fine motor skills, Mama wins that one. Writing the letter I is an exercise in patience. Mad Natter has decided he's going to try to wait me out. If this weren't the one day he does handwriting, and he weren't desperately in need of the practice, he might have a chance, but not so much. We get five letters done, and handwriting has taken 45m instead of 5-10. Much of that time was spent rationalizing why one does not actually need to print legibly, and staring out the window. The amount of time actually spent working was surprisingly the same as if there had been no fuss.

Phew. Now it's bathroom and caffeine breaks. Coming back to the table, we're working on poetry and grammar. First, there is the whining about the poetry book. Why is it so heavy and why does he have to actually open it, and why won't Mama do it for him? Once the book is open, the lesson takes less than five minutes, though the discussion on onomatopoeias ends in a spectacular display of chucking a five pound Bozo The Clown weeble-wobble across the room. Hey, it went "boom" and possibly "thud," and Mad Natter remembers the word, so it's all good.  Active use of the grammar book, however, results in growling and blowing raspberries, so the lesson is called off early in favor of Trampoline Time!  Mad Natter goes to his room and spends five minutes jumping on his trampoline while Mama tries to put the schoolroom back together again. After chucking toys and stomping around while reading, and rolling pencils here, there, and everywhere... The room needs the help.

Once trampoline time is done, it's onto Spelling, which is finished quickly and easily. We love Rule Breaker words (this time, it was "of"), which greased the wheels a little. Then comes time to read aloud, which Mad Natter does very well, albeit grudgingly. He chooses the book, and is always excited to read it until he realizes he will be the one reading it, and then it's grumbly, but usually is done in under three minutes. We cap off the day with our science experiment - both recording observations on our last and setting up a new experiment, and by then, we're done. Stunningly, end-to-end, including all the fussing, the schoolwork takes under two and a half hours to complete, and we're back to our own interests, projects, and lunch for the rest of the day.

It's exhausting, right? And it's a lot of redirection and fussing and back and forth, and it should really all just be fun!  Nope. Not when you're fighting against the lure of computer games, and the perfectionism that can be nearly crippling.  But, I digress.

I learned this past week that one of the neighborhood mothers was told, upon her daughter's entry to kindergarten, to not let her get too far ahead in her phonics. After all, it wouldn't do for the girl to be bored. Let's take a moment. Remember back to your public school days - most of us had them. What do you think would have been Mad Natter's fate in a public grade one classroom? Would there have been a bathroom break and trampoline time, or would there have been shouting, ridicule, loss of recess, and a trip to the principal's office?  Which seems more likely?  Now, tell me, given the "don't let her get ahead" attitude of our local elementary school, what do you think the teacher would have made of a child reading on a grade two level, working on grade one math, with grade four science skills, and preschool handwriting walking through the door of the kindergarten classroom?  Would the teacher have even seen those skills, or would they be completely obscured by Mad Natter's "obvious behavior problems"? Can I, in good conscience, take a child who is several grade levels from his chronological age and drop him into a classroom full of children who are doing the work expected of six year olds? What would the answer be if he were globally behind his age-peers?  If he were behind, there would be IEPs, testing, and parent-teacher meetings out the rear. But, because he's advanced, we're left to fend for ourselves. The testing isn't covered, the IEPs are ignored until the "problem behavior" is managed, and "kids usually even out by grade three anyway."

But yes, let's pretend, just you and me, that I could have an afternoon nap one day with Mad Natter sitting peacefully in a classroom, attentively listening to a teacher before he's twelve.  Hey, it could happen, right?